The media coverage of the earthquake that devastated Haiti and the city of Port au Prince on January 12, 2010 stopped long ago, creating a silence that allows many of us to remove the event from the list of immediately pressing concerns.
For a moment, let us think back to 2010 when initial reports stated that the total cost of the earthquake was between $8 billion and $14 billion and the death toll was approximately 316,000. Later, in June 2011, the International Organization for Migration reported that an estimated 634,000 people were still living in displacement camps (New York Times). Now, two and a half years after the natural disaster, hundreds of thousands are still living without safe housing and much of the infrastructure in Port au Price remains in disrepair. Tent camps and damaged buildings provide unstable housing for those remaining in the city, while others have moved to the countryside to build homes with tarps and sheet metal. The crisis is far from over, and the need to build more permanent housing and infrastructure in Haiti still persists.
During times like these, it seems that our role as architects, engineers, developers, and builders is obvious. The concepts of social entrepreneurship, social architecture, or social engineering have been around for a long time, all of which revolve around the goal of mitigating a social problem through conscious organization, planning, or design. Shortly after news of Haiti’s earthquake reached this country, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) committed to helping the people of Haiti rebuild and recover from the disaster. The current USGBC-led initiative, Project Haiti, is an effort to build a LEED-certified orphanage in Port au Prince. Once complete, the Orphanage and Children’s Center will provide shelter and safety, immediate care, and a hopeful future for children.
Upon hearing about USGBC’s effort to raise money for this noteworthy project, the Urban Green Council Emerging Professionals came on board to support the cause. At a fundraiser on August 15, 2012, the group raised over $1,700 to be donated to USGBC and used exclusively for expenses related to the design and construction of Haiti Orphanage and Children’s Center. The evening was a cultural celebration with a brief presentation of the project and a performance by local Haitian drumming group, La Troupe Makandal. A generous donation of raffle prizes from the Four Seasons Restaurant, TJ Allan, Rachel Goldfarb, Volta, Alexandra Weiss Designs, and Urban Green Council contributed to the funds raised. See photos from the event here.
This project has been designed as a model for high-performance green building practices that can be tailored to any culture. As sustainable builders, we cannot just rebuild buildings and infrastructure; we must “rebuild them better”. Project Haiti aims to inspire and teach how construction can both minimize impacts on the environment and, through maximizing energy and water conservation, be financially sustainable. Sponsored by USGBC with partnership from the Foundation L’enfant Jesus and pro-bono design by HOK, Project Haiti has been recognized as a Commitment Maker by the Clinton Global Initiative.
The Urban Green Council Emerging Professionals are a dedicated group of young professionals who work to create a network of leaders in the field of sustainability. Led by a core group of volunteer leaders, they develop opportunities for involvement through Urban Green Council to further generate momentum for the green building industry.
Want to learn more about how the green building industry is practicing “social design”? Urban Green Council’s conference Cooling on Climate Change: Designing the Message on September 18, will examine how the green building industry should be responding to climate change by asking questions such as: How can the green building movement better communicate the threats of climate change? What role do designers, developers, operators, and other real estate professionals have in climate change activism? What role does marketing play regarding climate change in the green building industry? How are marketing strategies adjusted for clients who are uninterested in mitigating climate change?